Tag Archives: education

100 Years of Loss- The Residential School System in Canada Exhibit Recap

 

Recently a colleague of mine asked if I would be willing to take a look at the 100 Years of Loss exhibit currently on display at the Canadian Museum of History and let her know my impressions. Of course I agreed, I had a bit of time in between volunteering for festivals and attending other museums in Ottawa and it gave me a chance to use my brand new membership card.

For those of you that do not know, the 100 Years of Loss- The Residential School System in Canada Exhibit is an exhibition developed in conjunction with the Legacy of Hope Foundation, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and Library and Archives Canada. The exhibition “uses reproductions of photographs, artwork and primary documents to tell the story of thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who were removed from their families and institutionalized in residential schools. It emphasizes the present-day effects of the system, focusing on healing and reconciliation.”[1]

If you are unaware of the Residential School System that existed in Canada between 1831 and 1996, you can familiarize yourself here.

At first glance the exhibit seemed out of place stuck in a corner of the museum, however, as I sat and watched other people interact with the exhibit, it was clear that it was in the right place. Every person that walked by either made a comment about the exhibit or they would mention something they already knew about Residential schools and some even stopped to read some or all of the panels. The exhibit is situated at a crossroads of sorts where people have to pass by. The history therefore cannot be ignored.

The design and colour scheme are fitting for the topic at hand. The exhibit consists of 4 pillars approximately 2.5ft in diameter which serve as text panels and a wavy wall that presents a timeline of the Residential School System. The use of various grey tones and a vibrant orange allow the important information to stand out without seeming offensive. The exhibit includes lots of grey and white space with intentional pops of orange to focus the reader’s attention on the text. The text on the pillar panels was slightly difficult to read, but it may have had to do with the placement of the exhibit under an overhang on the first floor or the font size. I am rather tall and sometimes I would have to crouch down to read the text on the lower half of the pillars, but some short people may not be able to read the text higher up, so that is really a flaw of the human race’s height diversity.

The exhibit is offered in both French and English. Four pillars in English and four in French with the wavy wall having French on one side and English on the other. Even though I cannot read any Aboriginal languages, it would have been nice to see that as an option. I am aware there are hundreds of different groups of Aboriginal people with variations in their languages and it would have been incredibly difficult to choose one or two languages to use. However, if possible it would have been nice to cater to those that may have had a firsthand experience in the Residential School System.

I sat and watched others visit the exhibit for some time to see how they reacted. I heard various responses such as “Oh, that’s the residential school exhibit!” and “is this it?”. I felt compelled to mention that it is a travelling exhibit, so it would be quite difficult to create an extravagant exhibit that would also be sturdy enough for transport. Other visitors were silent as they passed through the exhibit, some came alone. I noticed that because there wasn’t much signage, people began reading in various places, not moving in a chronological timeline. Being a good Western historian I appreciate chronologies, so I wonder if that caused any difficulties for those that didn’t start from the beginning.

I was intrigued to see that the exhibit has an app that you can download for free and use in conjunction with the physical exhibit. I quickly downloaded it and opened it up. From what I can tell it includes all of the text and photographs that the exhibit does but you can just read it from your phone. I think it would have been nice to see some supplemental information and photographs that were not featured in the exhibit itself. There is another feature that I couldn’t get to work. The app tells you to scan a barcode, but does not tell you where they are located or what will happen when you end up scanning them. I tried multiple times to scan various barcodes but to no avail unfortunately.

The content of the exhibit was thorough and intelligently organized into sections. The timeline portion included photographs as well as text to help lead you through the long history of the Residential School System in Canada. The text recognizes Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples’ points of view. The text also describes those people that had positive experiences and benefitted from their time in Residential Schools.

Even though as a Public Historian interested in Aboriginal history I am versed in the history of the Residential School System to some degree, I think that this exhibit gives a fabulous overarching explanation that goes deeper than a general introduction to the subject. I believe that the exhibit achieves the goal of educating the public about what happened here in our own country not so long ago. Thinking abstractly for a moment, as I was walking through the exhibit I was wondering why they chose to use the format they did (round pillars and a wavy wall). I came to a conclusion that possibly they were trying to represent the cyclical nature of abuse, and poor living conditions that occurred in the Residential Schools and consequently continues to this day in some Aboriginal communities. The circles of the pillars representing the cycle and maybe the wavy wall representing the ups and downs of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relationships throughout history. But I digress.

Overall, I enjoyed the exhibit immensely. The final pillar was rather inspiring and empowered me to want to learn more about Aboriginal Peoples’ experience in Canada. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to see this exhibit to do so!

 

[1] http://www.historymuseum.ca/event/100-years-of-loss-the-residential-school-system-in-canada/

CASS’ 50th Celebration!

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During the Thanksgiving weekend I had the privilege to volunteer at my old high school to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school opening in 1963. It was an exciting day, I was able to talk to old classmates, classmate’s parents, and teachers. I even got some hugs from those teachers that truly made a difference in my life while attending CASS, I was surprised and quite flattered to say the least.

I sold merchandise celebrating the 50th and loved hearing all the stories, especially from those that went to school at CASS in the 1960’s. One lady’s story stuck with me: she told me that she was never a very good student and failed grade 10 at a different high school. Due to her sister being incredibly smart, the two of them would have been in the same class if she had gone back to the same school. The lady couldn’t handle it and said she was quitting school, however CASS was opening and it gave her the opportunity to continue with her education without having to be compared to her sister. She THRIVED at CASS and she told me that the teachers really cared about if she succeeded. She was able to maintain mid-seventies to low-eighties in her studies and even gained enough to start the Christian Fellowship club at CASS. Her story was a testament to just how dedicated CASS has always been to teaching and it’s students and I am incredibly proud to be an alumna!

Below are some photos from the day including pictures of the decade rooms, and the opening of the time capsule buried 25 years ago by Students’ Council. 

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Volunteering at the Oxford County Archives 3

Yesterday was my last day volunteering at the County of Oxford Archives and it was definitely a full one (until 5:15 instead of 4:30…oops). I volunteered for a total of 50 hours this holiday season and received a crash course in the vast capabilities and responsibilities of a county archive. I was amazed by how much can be accomplished by so few people. The variety of things that the archivist Mary Gladwin conquers is phenomenal and she is a great teacher (and funny too!).

I arrived at the archives and started writing what Mary calls a Wikipedia blurb on my focus of research: Cassie Chadwick. The definition of the Wikipedia blurb is basically a short and sweet overview of the topic that will catch the attention of the students and get them excited to continue research by reading the primary documents provided with the brochure. The brochures are like a treasure hunt, the outside provides information about the County of Oxford Archives, while two of the inside panels provide the Wikipedia blurb. The centre inside panel houses a small envelope sealed with a sticker containing the primary documents. Within each envelope 6-7 primary documents are provided for each student, however each brochure package is not the same; each student will have similar but slightly different documents. This encourages group work and their ability to share to succeed in their studies. Through my research on Cassie Chadwick, I was able to find 17 different primary documents surrounding the mysterious woman and her scams as well as created a timeline that outlines her entire life. All of these were photocopied and made small enough to fit into the envelope. I was given permission to make two of the brochures to take home so that I have a copy of the work I completed.

It is pretty exciting to be part of the learning and teaching process through the use of my brochure. Later in January the COA will be implementing the educational program again using my brochure as well as another on Florence Carlyle that was completed during the last 3 weeks.

During my volunteering I learned just how much work and effort goes into even the smallest of learning materials. It took a lot longer to compile my research and focus it into a timeline format than I had expected, but because of my specific research, the Wikipedia blurb was simple to complete. I think that this program is very important to broadening the scope of history learned at the elementary school level because it allows the students to learn about local history rather than just the overarching themes of the War of 1812 and other topics studied in grade 7 and 8.

Around 4:15pm, the archivist remembered that she had promised me she would teach me how to do basic paper restoration during my time there. So we went into the restoration room and found a ‘weed’ (an historic document that is not of importance/duplicate) and she began to show me the tools needed and how to use them. She has a box of remnants of restoration papers that we tested for colour and settled on the correct one. I fixed a small hole and 3 tears in the document and let it dry while I worked on a document for the Woodstock Public Library. After the first document dried, the archivist showed me how to encapsulate the document so it wouldn’t become more damaged. She let me keep the document and gave me my own archival bone tool to keep.

The entire experience there was great and I am so thankful to Mary Gladwin, Marion Baker and Liz Mayville for making me feel so welcome. I learned so much in such a short time and it makes me look forward to a possible career in archives. I enjoyed the entire experience, even the tedious data entry. I met so many characters in the Oxford Historical Society, Oxford Genealogical Society and the County of Oxford Archives that I can’t wait to go back and visit!

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Mary Gladwin, Marion Baker and myself

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Completed Cassie Chadwick brochure

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Cassie Chadwick Timeline

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Cassie Chadwick brochure inserts